2023 presidency: Coalition begins moves to checkmate Atiku

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•Atiku Abubakar

ABUJA – A broad-based political alliance involving eminent leaders and chieftains of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) across the six geopolitical zones is being put together with a two-pronged agenda, one of which is to neutralise the hold of former Vice President and presidential candidate of the party in the 2019 General Election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his political camp on the structures of the opposition party, The Nation has learnt.

A former president, two former senate presidents and three serving governors are among the arrowheads of the grand alliance which, according to the leaders, is also meant to ensure that should Atiku nurse any presidential ambition for 2023, he is rendered incapable of clinching the PDP ticket. According to a very reliable party source, most of the arrowheads of the group are PDP chieftains determined to ensure that a southerner emerges as the candidate of the party in 2023.

The Nation was reliably informed that the budding political coalition is the brainchild of some party leaders and other critical stakeholders in the South-West; South-East, South-South and others from across the three zones of the north, who share the opinion that Atiku’s current hold on some party structures need to be detonated if their desire of seeing a southerner emerge as the candidate of the party during the next presidential election is to come to fruition.

Also said to be part of the grand alliance are some technocrats, leaders of socio-cultural organisations, retired top military officers and civil servants, especially from the southern part of the country, as well as a coterie of other concerned pro-zoning stakeholders. With this new group, the number of groups within and outside the PDP, showing interest in who picks the presidential ticket of the party in 2023, according to reliable sources, has increased.

Zoning debate

Already, the debate over which zone should produce the next presidential candidate of the party is intense. Within and outside the party, notable individuals and groups are calling on the leaders of the party to adhere strictly to the zoning arrangement being observed by the PDP since 1999. Not a few people have come out to openly urge the party to give its 2023 presidential ticket to a southerner if it is desirous of chasing the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) out of government at the federal level soon.

But some strong voices from the northern zones too have been saying the PDP is not under any obligation to zone its ticket to the south. Recently, Alhaji Shuaibu Ado Dansudu, the National President of the Arewa United Consultative Forum, (AUCF), vowed that the north will not relinquish power to a southerner in 2023 because the south already breached the zoning arrangement in 2011 and 2015 when the then President Goodluck Jonathan ran for the presidency instead of stepping aside for a northerner.

“I want to tell you categorically that the Southerners should forget coming to power after eight years, I mean in 2023 when the North would have served out two terms. Any Southerner dreaming to take over power in 2023 should better wake up. After eight years, we will still rule again because the Southerners betrayed the zoning agreement after Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure. Based on the zoning agreement, Obasanjo was allowed to rule for complete eight years uninterrupted.

“The late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua ruled for two years before his death and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, took over and completed his term. Rather than allow a northerner to take over, having completed Yar’Adua’s tenure, Jonathan re-contested and ruled for another four years. And he even made the attempt to elongate his tenure by re-contesting again in 2015. So for that reason, the North will rule for additional six or eight years to balance the arrangement. So the South should blame Jonathan,” he said.

But the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, while disagreeing with calls for the end of the arrangement, urged the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, not to contest the 2023 presidency to pave the way for the emergence of a candidate from the Southeast. The President-General of the group, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, called on Atiku to show maturity by ignoring any call to contest the election in the spirit of maintaining the ‘gentleman’s’ agreement on power rotation between the North and the South.

“The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide is confident that power will definitely shift to the South and we are urging the 2019 PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, not to yield to pressure to battle for the 2023 PDP ticket. He should show maturity and reciprocate the gesture of the Igbo in 2019 by supporting a President of Igbo stock in 2023. Any further attempt to thwart this gentleman’s agreement will further fuel distrust, enmity and agitation of marginalisation. For equity and justice to reign, the South-East will be the only zone favoured for the 2023 presidency,” he argued.

No zoning just yet

Worried by the raging debate and jolted by a report alleging that it has zoned its 2023 presidential ticket to a zone of the country, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP had to publicly debunk the rumour, saying the opposition party is yet to reach a conclusion on which part of the country its next presidential candidate would come from. The PDP even alleged that opposition politicians who had become jittery of its rising political fortunes are planting seeds of disunity among its members.

According to its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, those “behind the speculation are political terrorists whose plan is to mislead the public and cause disaffection within the ranks of our party with the hope of using such fabrications to further their own selfish political ambitions. For the avoidance of doubt, our party is yet to discuss the 2023 presidential election, overtly or covertly, at any time whatsoever. As a party, we are also working with our state governors and legislators across the country as they work hard, in line with the manifesto of our party, to improve on the welfare and development of Nigerians.”

Unfolding drama

Before now, a group of former PDP National Assembly members has announced its readiness to ensure that the party respects the zoning arrangement by handing its ticket to a southerner in 2023. The group openly called on Atiku and his backers to perish any thought of seeking the ticket in 2023. This is just as some close aides of the former Vice President told The Nation that he will still seek to govern the country.

Sources close to the key men working on the alliance also claimed to have confirmed moves within the political family of the former Vice President to either snap up the PDP presidential ticket again in 2023 or ensure the emergence of one of his allies as the candidate for the next presidential election. “Whatever he plans to do, some prominent party leaders are poised to oppose him. They simply share the feeling that he should not be allowed to hijack the party,” a source said.

“Numerous foot soldiers within and outside the party have since been directed to embark on aggressive sensitisation at each of the federal constituencies across the country, especially here in the south, on the need to ensure that the PDP save itself from extinction in 2023 by presenting a southerner as presidential candidate, as arrow heads of the group continue to win more party chieftains over to their side while fine-tuning the plot ahead of the next elective convention of the party.

To place the group on a strong pedestal, the leaders, at a recent meeting in one of the South-south states, resolved to reach out to more mass-based organisations which share similar views as regards the zoning debate. Another primary aim of the alliance, which is said to now have as members many former governors, serving and former National Assembly members, as well as current national and state officials of the PDP, is to reposition the party ahead of the next general election. Speaking to The Nation, a serving senator, who is a former principal officer of the Senate from the South-south, said the move is to save the PDP from implosion.

“One major move by the group is to retake the nerves of the party by reining in the National Chairman, Uche Secondus, who before now appeared to be more loyal to the Atiku camp than the pro-zoning alliance. But from the look of things in the past few weeks, the National Chairman, who was a beneficiary of the supports of many of the brains behind the new coalition, appears to be retracing his steps. By revisiting the case against Hon. Elumelu and others, some stakeholders said he is behaving right.

“Somehow, Atiku and his people almost pocketed our party. As the presidential candidate, he reduced the PDP to his personal business. Most of our leaders who fought and toiled to keep the party alive while he was in the APC were sidelined and reduced to onlookers. All organs of the party reported to Atiku and his people. That explains why his presidential race was more like his personal struggle while notable party leaders were left in limbo.

“Following this realisation, our leaders, who are the real owners of the party; the real leaders of the members, realised that the party must be freed from the stranglehold of our former presidential candidate and his camp. This is not a plot against him or anybody. It is a move to ensure that party members are allowed to freely decide their candidates in 2023 across the country. We all remember what transpired in the run up to the 2019 presidential race concerning the PDP ticket.

“If you sincerely place this realisation side by side the growing agitation for a southern president in 2023, you will not call what is happening a plot against anybody. That is a wrong understanding of the ideals of those behind the move to save our party. The PDP is a party learning from his past mistakes. We will not allow anybody or group to pitch us against the people ever again. Nigerians want zoning to be respected and that is exactly what we will do,” the chieftain said.

Reaching out

Checks by The Nation revealed that the arrowheads, especially from the South, were working assiduously with their counterparts in other zones to make the alliance a formidable force that will mobilise popular support for the positions of the group within the opposition party. “If this will help you, let me simply explain it this way; we are working hard to reclaim our party from those who don’t understand how we have been managing our issues,” our source added.

A prominent PDP chieftain from Lagos State, who confirmed the existence of the new coalition as well as its intentions while craving for anonymity, said aside many other plans, the group will soon be calling for a NEC meeting of the opposition party with a view to getting the leadership of the party to address some of its concerns while setting some records straight. “We are now determined more than ever before to ensure that our real leaders are not shoved aside ever again,” he said. (The Nation)

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